Pride may goeth before the fall, but with politicians like George W. Bush, far too much time separates the pride part from the fall part. The damage that he has wrought in this country and the world goes beyond accurate enumeration — most of it made possible because he has been able to use 9-11 to pose as God’s sword to smite his political enemies at home and abroad. He should have slunk away after 9-11, having failed miserably in his primary duty, but instead he used a crisis for personal and governmental aggrandizement. That’s the pride part.
Now, however, his fortunes have changed dramatically — with the fall part finally kicking in. Many of us remember that Clinton was highly unpopular — in fact, I recall sensing that he was the most hated president of my lifetime. Well, his highest disapproval rating in his two terms was 33 percent. I can recall feeling buoyed by the knowledge that fully one-third of the public hated the president.
But now look at the newest ABC News poll: Bush’s disapproval rating is 51 percent — not nearly as high as it should be, but enough to give any freedom lover a lift. Half the public (statistically speaking) are willing to tell pollsters that they disapprove of everything about the guy: domestic policies, international policies, and Bush personally. You know it has gotten bad when web advertisers offer the chance to punch Bush in the chops as a way of selling their products.
Remember that dumb little war he started back in November 2001? Bush decided that the way to flog some dead hijackers was to invade Afghanistan on grounds that its leaders — direct successors to the "freedom fighters" that the US funded in the 1980s to overthrow the Soviet-installed government — had sympathy for Bin Laden, who did his best to claim credit for punching the Pentagon and knocking down the twin towers.
To war with this impoverished dustbin! Everyone signed on — did anyone among the pundit class dare not to cheer? — and his ratings zoomed sky high. But what the US wrought there was not justice, peace, or freedom, but a fracturing of the country into entrenched tribalism, a vast increase in opium production (some estimates say it is responsible for half the country’s income and most of the world’s supply), and an explosion in recruits to the Taliban religion dedicated to casting off the yoke of the US.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for political decentralization, and tribes are better than central governments hands down. As for drug production, how a man makes a buck is no one’s business but his customers; if the opium dens of the world need the stuff, bully for Afghan farmers for beating others to market. Same goes for religion: if these folks feel a greater attachment to their god than their occupation government, that strikes me as perfectly reasonable.
But the Bush administration didn’t intend the current outcome. It hoped to displace Talibania with something like an enlightened US rule — a very creepy ambition that perfectly mirrors the Soviet goal only two decades earlier. Now the refusal of the country to submit has produced a pretext for ever more violence. The client government, meanwhile, is torching drugs, jailing dealers, and cracking down on every political dissident — sort of like the Taliban used to do. Whence this amazing ability of the US government to so imitate the behaviors of its former enemies?
Most US citizens have known and cared nothing about the ongoing chaos in Afghanistan, until the news blared that insurgents had shot down a Chinook helicopter carrying 17 US soldiers, among whom were eight Navy Seals and other highly trained soldiers. They were arriving on the scene to help other ground troops who were in trouble. But they found themselves in a trap from which they could not return.
The situation is getting worse, not better. And the more the government cracks down, the more the insurgents fight and the less of the country that can be controlled. And as many military experts have said, this is not a fight the US can win, short of exterminating the Afghans with nuclear weapons.
Now, the situation in Afghanistan is supposed to be a story of victory by comparison to Iraq, which is far worse. The civil war that exists in this once prosperous, pro-Western country is desperately sad. The invasion and occupation have encouraged all the worst elements, compromised the best ones, and mowed down the moderates in between. It is a tragic and bloody story with no upside. Bush fears doing anything, whether increasing troops (bad signal to insurgents) or reducing them (bad signal to insurgents). All that US pundits can think to say is: death to the dissidents!
Meanwhile, never in modern history has a pretext for war been more transparently fraudulent that Bush’s tale about Iraq’s WMD. With that hoax unraveling for the 820th time, the administration decided to step up the lies again, with Bush once again suggesting (to an active-duty military audience no less) that the invasion of Iraq had something to do with 9-11.
When the soldiers gathered to hear his lies did not clap — not for the entire speech until a White House employee finally broke the stone-cold silence — the White House went not for truth but for spin: that was the way it was supposed to be, they said.
Then there is Bush’s much-vaunted domestic initiative, which really comes down to Social Security privatization. It was clear from the first time he took up the idea that he had no idea of what he was talking about. He believed the phony claims of beltway bandits that trillions in liabilities could be wiped away with an accounting change backed by libertarian rhetoric. When politicians talk this way, you don’t have to be a bloodhound to smell a rat.
Now White House pollsters note a dip in his popularity every time he brings up the issue. So it will be dropped for the duration. It was his one and only cause, and it was pathetic from the outset. Mr. Big Government could never make a principled case against the program, so he ended up arguing for a new forced savings program called privatization and funding the revenue shortfall with mountains of debt. The idea was so intellectually dishonest that it makes Hillary’s health care scheme look like a paragon of transparency and good government.
So there we have it: three more years of a lame duck president who is stuck in two losing, bloody, terrorist-recruiting wars, and has presided over one of the great domestic flops in American history. All he needs is a good recession to complement soaring gas prices, and his fall will be complete.
My prediction is that Bush’s legacy will be universally reviled, leaving only a few carping revisionists on blogs, who long ago decided that they prefer Party Loyalty to truth. The important thing to note is that someday he will be gone. And with him the movement that has covered for him. Maybe his policies of welfare-warfare will take a hit too. That would be pride, fall, and justice after all.